Notebook: Brian Kelly getting his kicks as secrecy now spreads beyond Notre Dame QBs

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — So maybe Notre Dame is now considering a time-share at kickoff man?

Probably not, but Irish head football coach Brian Kelly seems as bound to secrecy about who will launch ND’s first kickoff — and subsequent ones — Sunday night in Austin, Texas, against the Texas Longhorns (7:30 p.m. EDT; ABC-TV) as he is about which one of his tag-teaming quarterbacks will run the actual first offensive play.

“Those guys are neck and neck,” Kelly said of junior punter Tyler Newsome, who kicked off last year, and sophomore place-kicker Justin Yoon, whose proficient placement paired with increased leg strength have pulled him into the conversation.

The intrigue wasn’t enough, though, Thursday to coax the media into a second post-practice question to Kelly on the subject.

He did, though, get asked about the quarterbacks — again.

The latest nuance of the DeShone Kizer-Malik Zaire pairing is how their reps have been divided in practice since Kelly named them co-No. 1s just over two weeks ago.

Bottom line: Same amount of reps, but they’re distributed much differently.

“Malik will go in for one play and then DeShone will go in for six,” Kelly said, “and then Malik will go in for five plays and DeShone will go in for three. There’s no rhythm to them. We’re just preparing them for that kind of eventuality.”

Previously, they largely alternated series with the first and second units.

Interestingly, Las Vegas has weighed in on how it views the two-QB thing at ND. Per, both players Heisman Trophy odds got noticeably longer since the announcement. Kizer’s rose from 28-1 to 40-1, while Zaire is at 50-1, up from 28-1.

Yoon, meanwhile, probably had a more memorable practice than the QBs Thursday, at least as far as his teammates were concerned.

Kelly had them set to run 88s at the end of practice, a defensive tempo drill that has the net effect of five minutes of wind sprints. But Kelly made a deal that he’d cancel the 88s if Yoon could match his career-long, 52-yard field goal.

“He nailed it,” Kelly said.

Status report

Kelly said the process for four recently arrested players with the school’s disciplinary arm remains ongoing, but as of Thursday night cornerback Ashton White, wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, running back Dexter Williams and linebacker Te’von Coney were all on the travel roster for the Texas game.

“We leave here (Friday) night and expect them to be on the plane,” Kelly said, “but those are decisions that are outside my control.”

The four, one of whom are projected starters, were charged with possession of marijuana on Aug. 19 after the car they were traveling in that night was pulled over in Fulton County in northern Indiana.

Starting safety Max Redfield was also charged with possession of marijuana in connection with the arrests. He also faces a charge of illegal possession of a handgun, and was dismissed from the team on Aug. 21.

Personnel matters

Sophomore quarterback Brandon Wimbush took third-team reps this week rather than shipping off to the scout team to mimic Texas’ offense for ND’s No. 1 defense.

Kelly said freshman Ian Book and sophomore walk-on Nolan Henry teamed up to fill the scout team role.

• No new injuries occurred so far this week, per Kelly. Among the handful of players rehabbing, junior running back Justin Brent remains three to four weeks away from being fully cleared.

The converted wide receiver suffered a Lisfranc (arch) fracture this summer and subsequently underwent surgery on the foot. Straight-ahead movement isn’t a problem at this juncture, the coach said. It’s cutting.

Looking out for No. 1

Kelly revealed a few more details Thursday about the process about to unfold regarding the rotation of the No. 1 jersey.

The jersey will be awarded each game week to the player “who exemplifies himself both on and off the field in a manner that represents all the things we want a Notre Dame football player to represent,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the coaching staff will take recommendations from the team’s four captains on Thursday nights (Friday this week because of the Sunday game), and then the coaches will discuss them, with Kelly making the ultimate decision.

“And then we won’t let them know until that No. 1 jersey is in their locker in pregame,” Kelly said. “They won’t wear it out to pregame (warmups). But they’ll know in pregame that they’re the recipient of it. Everybody (else) will find out when they run out of the tunnel.”

Offensive linemen, who are restricted from wearing the No. 1 in a game by rule, still can be eligible for the honor. In that instance, the jersey would remain in their locker.


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

A higher percentage of touchbacks on kickoffs and using front-line players on kick coverage are two of the ways new Notre Dame special teams coach Brian Polian plans to upgrade the Irish kicking and return games. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)